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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Biden: Israel Should Not Try To "Re-Occupy" Gaza; Palestinian Authority President Condemns Hamas Attack; Travel Company CEO Helped Get 100+ U.S. High School Students Out Of Israel As War Broke Out; IDF: 250 Targets Hit In Gaza, Multiple Hamas Commanders Killed. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired October 15, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to CNN's continuing coverage of Israel at war. I'm Anderson Cooper reporting tonight from Tel Aviv.
KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And I'm Kaitlin Collins here in New York. In a new interview tonight President Biden is warning that he does not believe Israel should try to reoccupy Gaza, though he is adding to 60 minutes that he does believe Israel, quote has to respond to that Hamas assault that has killed 1400 people in Israel. He also says he believes the suffering of Palestinian civilians that is happening right now can be managed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITES STATES OF AMERICA: I'm confident that Israel is going to act under the major, the rules of war. There's a standards that democratic institutions and countries will go by. And so I'm -- I'm confident that there's going to be an ability for the innocents in Gaza to be able to have access to medicine, food and water.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Of course, the President has had multiple conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Tonight we have also learned from the State Department that the death toll in Israel now includes 30 Americans. All of this is coming as President Biden is weighing whether to visit Israel after he was invited by the Prime Minister.
COOPER: It's 4 am here in Tel Aviv, much of the world wonders will this be the day that Israeli forces invade Gaza right now along Israel's border with Gaza where there are 300,000 soldiers, tanks, heavy equipment, artillery await orders. A ground invasion seems all but inevitable.
A short time ago, the President of the Palestinian Authority and -- authority Mahmoud Abbas issued his first public condemnation of the mass attacks. Abbas speaking with Venezuela's president called for an end to civilian casualties, the release of prisoners and a rejection of violence.
Also tonight, Gaza is running out of water and Gaza is running out of life. That's a quote coming from the United Nations agency warning that the Israeli blockade and airstrikes are pushing civilians into an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. The UN is seeking a safe corridor to provide essential supplies like food, fuel, water, food and medicine. Palestinian officials say the number of people killed there has surpassed 2600. CNN's Nic Robertson is in a store out near the Gaza border. Nick, I know you spoke to some current and former IDF fighters. What did they tell you?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: Yes, I think, Anderson, one of the big takeaways is the similarities that the forces IDF is going through right now and the situation in Gaza is right now compared to the last round incursion 2014. One of the big issues is going to be if there's a ground incursion for the IDF to distinguish between Hamas and civilians, because there will be civilians in the area. I think everyone seems to except that despite the fact that there are these corridors for civilians, to move south from the north end of Gaza.
That said, it doesn't mean that those civilians are going to be safe. We went there and saw some of the troops training today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): Close to Gaza, preparations underway for a much anticipated ground offensive. Troops from different units training together. There is an urgency here. They have to be ready, fast.
ROBERTSON: Right now this is a rehearsal. If and when there's an incursion, these troops could be at the front of it. Tanks are for this practice model ones right now, followed by infantry and combat engineers are combined for spearheading an incursion.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): If they do, Major Ofek will be near the front.
MAJOR OFEK, GIVATI BRIGADE COMMANDER: We expect to go to war, we expect to destroy the terrorist organization, Hamas, kill its governments and kill every last terrorist. That's what we plan to do. And that's how it will be.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): The last time the IDF went into Gaza, targeting Hamas leaders was 2014. Ariel Bernstein was 21 in the Special Forces, one of the first to cross the border.
ARIEL BERNSTEIN, FORMER ISRAELI COMBAT SOLDIER We were just afraid that there's something waiting for you at every corner.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): But his experiences then have left him questioning the tactics today. Back then he says the IDF wants civilians to leave and Hamas told them to stay, just as is happening now. But some had stayed. His orders he says to assume the civilians had left.
BERNSTEIN: Whoever you see, is basically engaged in fighting or is involved in fighting, and therefore we call it engaging with fire with any home you enter, with any kind of shape of a person that you see from afar.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): In many ways, Israel's actions are playing out, just as they have in the past. 2021 gun positions freshly dug back in use, and in Gaza, the civilian death toll, according to Palestinian health officials, already higher than in 2014. And like then, Israel is already facing huge international pressure to avoid more civilian casualties.
JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: What we are doing, is saying privately what we've said publicly, which is that all Military operations should be conducted consistent with law of war, that civilians should be protected.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): The problem the IDF says it faces just like 2014, Hamas will be hiding among civilians.
MAJOR DORON SPIELMAN, IDF SPOKESPERSON: The whole situation we're talking about with Gazan civilians, forcibly embedded is another element of Hamas. Hamas has to be fully defeated.
ROBERTSON: So the responsibility is on them and not you.
SPIELMAN: The responsibility is on Hamas for their own civilians. Our responsibility is to eliminate Hama's capabilities completely.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): Major Ofek pausing during training in a mocked up Palestinian town says they don't hurt innocence only terrorists, but admits if he is sent into Gaza, avoiding civilian deaths won't be easy.
ROBERTSON: Do you think it's possible that a fight Hamas without civilians getting injured?
OFEK: We're concerned with overthrowing the Hamas regime and killing the terrorists who are currently in Gaza, if it will be difficult, it will be difficult, not easy.
ROBERTSON (VOICES OVER): Outside the camp gates as Israel's Military ponder their next move. Troops are saying they're fond farewells.
ROBERTSON: And that really does seem to be the ground reality. It doesn't matter how much you ask civilians to get out of the way and how much you prepare troops to go into combat, where civilians might be and their mission is to get the terrorists behind them. The civilians, unfortunately, are going to get caught up in the conflict. And for Ariel, who we interviewed, who was part of the forces going in in 2014, he is still left very traumatized.
COOPER: Talking about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Hamas, Israel has asked civilians to leave to go to the south Hamas has told people to stay. It's -- the humanitarian situation always becomes the focus in other Gaza conflicts. How's it shaping up this time? What's being done about it?
ROBERTSON: Yes, I think you're absolutely right, Anderson. You know, if we go back to 2014, there was discussion back then about trying to provide a sort of a safe humanitarian zone. And Israel, as Ambassador to the UN has been saying the same. They're working with UN agencies to try to create this humanitarian safe zone, but without, you know, without housing, without tenting, without tents, without food, without water, all of these things theyt just are not available right now in Gaza. It's not a particularly safe space.
I mean, you're talking there for about -- about hundreds of thousands of people essentially, living outside and hoping that it doesn't rain, and it has been raining this evening, and more rain is forecast to come. And they still have to eat. Unless the border opens with Egypt and that aid is allowed to come in, or some people, Palestinians in Gaza are allowed to go out into Egypt, that humanitarian zone in Gaza, you know, maybe away from -- away from most of the bombs, but it's not going to be somewhere where they're going to get food and water and adequate shelter and everything else people would expect.
COOPER: Nic Robertson in Sderot Israel. Thanks very much near the Gaza border. Kaitlin.
COLLINS: Tonight, the Secretary General of the United Nations that Nic just mentioned there, Antonio Gutierrez is warning that the Middle East, he says is on the verge of the Abyss and he's calling on Hamas to immediately release all hostages, and for Israel to grant rapid and unimpeded humanitarian aid into Gaza, which so far has not happened.
Joining us now tonight is Israel's ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Gilad Erdan. He is also the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Thank you, Ambassador, for your time tonight. Let's start with what Israel says is the next phase of this war. We heard from the prime minister just a few hours ago. What does the success in Israel's eyes of this mission look like?
GILAD ERDAN, ISRAEL'S AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: I think there is only one goal that we can define. And we're very satisfied that also President Biden said it tonight, the you know, the full obliteration of Hamas terrorists capabilities. No other goal can be enough to secure the communities and cities of Israel that were attacked by the barbaric terrorists of Hamas So that is our goal. And we are committed to use every means at our disposal to achieve that goal.
COLLINS: Is that all of Hamas or just the leadership of Hamas?
ERDAN: All of Hamas terror capabilities.
COLLINS: And how long do you believe that this could take, Ambassador?
ERDAN: It -- whatever it will take, we will continue because we have suffered atrocities like we have never atrocity -- we have never suffered since the Holocaust. I don't -- don't want to repeat even you know, the numbers of thousands of people who were killed and injured and 150 hostages. This is a rescue operation, Kaitlin. We are we want to rescue the hostages. We want to rescue our future. It's a matter of survival.
We cannot promise a future to the people of Israel and to our kids, without knowing that we totally obliterated Hamas capabilities and -- and ensure that these atrocities will not happen again.
COLLINS: I know rescuing the hostages is obviously one of the most complex parts of this given how Hamas operates in this sophisticated tunnel system under Gaza. Does Israel have intelligence on where the hostages are located? How confident are senior Israeli officials that you actually be able to find the hostages?
ERDAN: Obviously, I can't share what we know or don't know about them. You know that Israel has a very advanced intelligence agencies. And again, we are now fully committed to releasing the hostages together with obliterating Hamas terrorists capabilities.
COLLINS: Are there any negotiations happening? The last time I spoke with the -- your successor, the US ambassador to Israel, he said there were no negotiations happening to get those hostages released. Is that still the case tonight?
ERDAN: As far as I know, there are no negotiations and there shouldn't be any negotiations. Because, again, the only thing that we are focused on is targeting Hamas terrorists and eradicating their capabilities. We have no interest, by the way, I'm referring now to what the President said tonight, we have no interest to occupy Gaza or to stay in Gaza.
But since we are fighting for our survival, and the only way as the President himself defined is to obliterate Hamas. So we -- have we will have to do whatever is needed to obliterate their capabilities.
COLLINS: OK, that's an important statement there. You say that Israel does not have plans to try to reoccupy Gaza. That's what President Biden warned about in his 60 Minutes interview tonight. After Israel's next phase of this, what does -- who -- who was in charge of Gaza, Israel doesn't plan to re occupy it, who is in charge in control of Gaza after that?
ERDAN: Kaitlin, there are many, many questions regarding the future, but we will have time to discuss them, to negotiate them. Obviously, we would love we would like to be coordinated with our American allies. But for now, the only focus should be how to release the hostages, how to secure our future by obliterating Hamas capabilities. It's -- it's a very, you know, complicated goal to achieve. So we're not thinking now what will happen the day after the war.
First of all, we need to win this war. And that's the only thing that we're focused now.
COLLINS: Israel, of course, has asked Gazan civilians, Palestinian civilians to leave their homes in northern Gaza, to go south ahead of this anticipated next phase. One concern that we've heard from Gazans whether or not they'll be allowed to return back to their homes. Will the Palestinians who are fleeing be allowed to go back?
ERDAN: I believe they will be allowed to return. The problem now is not if they are allowed to return, the problem right now is that we are trying to temporarily call for their evacuation because it can be reversed, the loss of human life cannot. And Hamas is now threatening them. Because they always use them as human shields in -- in order to try and recruit the international community to put pressure on Israel and tie our hands.
So that's the main problem right now, because Hamas is threatening the life of the people of Gaza, trying to prevent them from evacuating the area where the war will take place.
COLLINS: We've seen reports that Hamas is blocking civilians from being able to leave. And some -- some reports that they have been taking their keys. Have you confirmed any of that? Have you heard or seen that they are in fact doing that?
ERDAN: Yes, 100 percent. We have even recordings of Gaza residents who are speaking on the phone and telling other people that Hamas doesn't allow them to leave their homes and they're threatening them to stay there. As I said, they want to increase the number of civilian casualties in order to recruit naive organizations like the UN to pressure, the law abiding democracy that is Israel instead of pressuring the terrorists that are killed that is Hamas.
COLLINS: And the question, of course, is when they leave where they can go and how these civilians who live in Gaza can exit. Can you confirm whether there are plans to open the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt? There's reports that that could happen for foreign nationals as soon as overnight tonight. Do you know if that is actually the plan, Ambassador?
ERDAN: I don't know if it will happen tonight. We -- we wanted to allow diplomats and foreigners to leave Gaza. It was prevented by others. It is now under negotiations. And I hope that we will find the solution very soon in order to enable people who wants to leave the Gaza Strip to live towards Egypt.
COLLINS: And Jake Sullivan, President Biden's National Security Advisor said earlier that Israel had turned on the water back into southern Gaza. We have not seen that confirmed I don't believe yet from an Israeli official. Can you confirm that tonight, Ambassador?
ERDAN: From what I know yes, we -- there is water now in Gaza.
COLLINS: And to have that obviously, power would also be important for it to be able to be pumped, to be desalinated is that part of the plan as well from Israel to make sure that the civilians who -- who can't leave can have clean drinking water?
ERDAN: I have to refer to all these questions about the resources in Gaza. We should always remember that Hams has the sole responsibility for whatever is happening inside Gaza. For the last 16 years you know it had it had funneled all the money that was -- all the money that was fun have been transferred into Gaza, they exploited it into their -- they turned Gaza into a war machine. There's a -- there's a lot of -- there's a lot of energy and fuel right now in Gaza that can be used for their hospitals, on a water desalination, power plants.
You know, where is this fuel, Kaitlin, it's right now being used for their missile launchers. It's being used now for their subterranean terrorists city that was built now to serve as a shelter for the terrorists. So we should always remember that Israel cherishes life and we are monitoring the humanitarian situation in Gaza. And once we see that there's a need, we will allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. But the pressure should be applied on the barbaric terrorist of Hamas.
COLLINS: Mr. Ambassador, always appreciate you taking our questions making some news there, Israel has no plans to reoccupy Gaza. Ambassador Gilad Erdan, thank you so much for joining me tonight.
ERDAN: Thank you very much.
COLLINS: And as this next phase of the war, what happens in Gaza as the ambassador was noting there, what that looks like is looming. The work to rescue hostages, including Americans who are in that group is becoming more complicated. We'll talk about as CNN's special live coverage continues right after this.
COOPER: Israeli defense forces say Hamas is still the holding 155 hostages, some in precarious health. Families of American Israeli hostages are urging the Biden Administration to act now. Lieutenant General Mark Schwartz served as the former U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He's also a Greenbrae. Appreciate you being with us. What is the best strategy to try to secure hostages in a situation like this?
LT. GEN. MARK SCHWARTZ (RET.), FMR. U.S. SECURITY COORDINATOR FOR ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: Well, Anderson, it's good to be with you tonight. It's obviously as you've reported on throughout this the beginning of this crisis, one of the most complex environments in which special operations forces would have to go in and secure the release of the hostages that have been taken.
Over 150 hostages have been taken representing a multitude of nations, as President Biden and Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin have stated, Israel has the lead in terms of the analytical efforts, the collection that's ongoing inside of Gaza to try to locate but I'm fully confident particularly with the deployment of the USS four strike group that deployed the amount of interagency intelligence collection that's ongoing.
And I'm also confident that there's a special operations liaison there working. The most difficult part of this and that is to find to try to locate the hostages so that ideally, the security environment will be such once they are located that they can be rescued. COOPER: How much more complex is this made? Because this isn't some rogue terror group that has is operating on its own in some country. This is the government of the Gaza Strip. I mean, this -- these are the rulers of the Gaza Strip, they have access to everything, all government facilities, they have access to underground tunnels, that must make this all the more complex?
SCHWARTZ: Now you're correct in that they are a terrorist organization for more than that are you know the governing body of Gaza certainly. The fact that they're on their home turf so to speak makes us all that more complex. The fact that they have a network of underground facilities, but which they can not only protect themselves, but they can also place the hostages makes a recovery once -- once the hostage is located even more complex. So, again, there's no more difficult environment of which to operate in.
Fortunately, the Israeli Special Operations Forces have got a significant amount of experience operating in these types of environments, as do our forces that are assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command. So there's a very strong relationship between those two forces as are other, you know, with other allies. So that that is very positive going into -- into this you're not having to build a relationship the same time you're trying to get a intelligence baseline and then synchronize the intelligence collection that's necessary in order to locate the hostages.
COOPER: Obviously, hostage rescue is one thing, negotiations for hostages another but doing that, in the midst of we're in the preparation for a ground invasion, which is assumed what is coming next. I mean, what takes priority when you have a massive ground operation underway?
SCHWARTZ: Well, I can't set the priorities for the operational Strategic Commanders. But, you know, clearly, from U.S. standpoint, our President has been very clear, his number one priority is the security, the location and the safe return of the hostages. And I know they're working out through a series of diplomatic efforts. Anderson, I could give you a I think, a relative or relevant excuse me. So in 2003 while this these hostages weren't taken before the ground war in Iraq started, if you recall, the 507 maintenance company was ambushed based on some navigation areas and Nasri and as a result, several words were taken.
And, you know, during that operation, I could see potential hostage rescue situations playing out similar to what happened there. You had a Marine Expeditionary Brigade operating and, you know, complex terrain, you actually had a Iraqi civilian that, you know, provided the intelligence to find private lands at that time. And then, of course, a special operation was conducted to secure her, you know, to secure her as well as nine, remains of nine others that were killed during that -- during that encounter.
So I can see that happen in this situation, Anderson, where we may not have actual intelligence, the Israelis may not before ground operations start, but we may be also very reliant on the, frankly, the sympathy of the Palestinian populace. And that's why I think it's so important that we do separate the, you know, the populace from the terrorist organization that is holding them hostage as well collectively across Gaza.
COOPER: Yes, Lieutenant General Mark Schwartz, I appreciate your expertise.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you.
COOPER: Ahead, more from the region, the story of travel CEO. More than 100 American high school students in their quote, terrifying journey they went through together. She helped them evacuate Israel students. Special coverage continues.
COOPER: Nearly after the Hamas attacks on Israel, tourists were frantically trying to get out of what had suddenly become a warzone. Cheri Levitan was in Israel for her niece's bar mitzvah. She's also the head of a travel company based in Atlanta. After the attack, she got a call to help get a group of 100 American high school students out of the country. Cheri Levitan joins me now from Atlanta. So you're the head of Kenes tours, you're used to I know planning trips for people. Talk about the finding out how -- it was very difficult to get people out of Israel at the time. How'd you do it?
CHERI LEVITAN, CEO, KENES TOURS: Well, thanks for having me, Anderson, very much appreciated. It was a very crazy time. Actually, I'm the CEO located here in Atlanta, Georgia, but the company Kenes tours is located in Tel Aviv. So yes, I was there for our family, bar mitzvah and it was also holiday time. But I was there to kick off our very, very busy fourth quarter. And then the call came from the Jewish National Fund USA. They're a major client of ours. And they basically said, we need your help.
We got to get these kids out. There were 107 kids. They're all -- they were all part of a program called the Alexandra Muss, High School in Israel. Most of them arrived in August, they were between the ages of 15 and 18. And their parents were freaking out. So we didn't really have much of a choice and we got to work. We knew from hearing about cancellations of U.S. carriers. We weren't going to be able to get them on a flight on U.S. carrier direct from Tel Aviv to say JFK.
So I knew that we had to act pretty quickly and try to get them to Europe. Kenes tours is part of a major Israeli travel company called Issta. They have a flight department. And I just picked up the phone and call them and said, hey, you guys, I've got 107 kids. I understand what the parents are going through. I'm alumni parent myself, I'd be freaking out. I need a plane to anywhere. And we knew that Israeli carriers El Al, Israir, Arkia, they were on the ground. They were planes in Israel. And so we opted to one of those. COOPER: Listen, I appreciate you being on with us tonight, talking about your efforts to get a lot of people trying to get out of Israel. And obviously the situation in Gaza. You have a lot of Americans who are trying to get out along that southern border if and when that becomes open. Cheri Levitan, thanks so much. Ahead tonight, President Biden's latest remarks on the situation here -- he weighing in on support, whether he'd support a n Israeli occupation of Gaza. This as we learned discussions of a visit by Biden to Israel may be underway. Live from the White House next.
COLLINS: Tonight, President Biden is said to be considering an invitation from Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit Israel. White House sources say a decision has not been made at this time about whether or when President Biden could go but this is coming as in a new interview. The President is saying that he does not believe Israel should try to reoccupy Gaza warning that he believes that would be a big mistake.
The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations just responded to those comments. He told me that Israel has no plans to do so, to try to occupied Gaza long term. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is tracking all of this and the White House tonight. Priscilla, of course, when it comes to this invitation that we know Netanyahu has extended to the President and several phone calls that they've had. What are White House officials weighing when it comes to that decision?
PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're still trying to understand, Kaitlin, is how advanced these discussions are, and if it is possible, when it would happen. And of course, that would come on the heels of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his high stake diplomacy in the region and he will be back in Israel tomorrow. So all of this is still very much in flux.
But as you mentioned there the ambassador's comments really line up with what President Biden said in a 60 Minutes interview which is that Israel has the right to defend itself, that they should go after Hamas. But he said that they should also not occupy Gaza, because that the President said would be a mistake. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I think it'd be a big mistake. What happened in Gaza, in my view is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don't represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that it would be a mistake to for Israel to occupy Gaza again. But to going in and taking out the extremist the Hezbollah is up north, but Hamas down south is a necessary requirement.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ALVAREZ: Now over the weekend, the President also spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the president of the Palestinian Authority. Top of mind of both of those conversations was that they should not see -- they do not want the conflict to widen or to spread any further as well as the humanitarian situation playing out in Gaza. But it's clear, Kaitlin, that all of this is top of mind. And it is something that the President was regularly briefed on throughout the course of the day by his senior officials today.
COLLINS: Yes. Priscilla, the other thing that we heard from Ambassador Erdan is that he did confirm that Israel he is told has turned on the water pipe back into southern Gaza. Obviously, that had been a major humanitarian concern about whether or not civilians just had clean drinking water. Whether they had any water at all. That is something that Jake Sullivan told Jake Tapper earlier today, the President's National Security Advisor. When you talk to White House officials and the questions and the pressure on Israel to allow aid into Gaza. What are those conversations looking like behind the scenes?
ALVAREZ: They are working hour by hour to get a -- their arms around the situation that is in Gaza. It is a deepening crisis. They were aware that there were food shortages, that there were water shortages. And really what was top of mind as it came to this situation was that humanitarian corridor and having conversations with regional partners to make sure that Palestinians and Palestinian Americans could leave Gaza into Egypt.
Now, those conversations are very much still in play, and ongoing as with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in the region and meeting directly with his counterparts. But when national security officials are talking about the situation here, it is clear to them that this is a crisis and that they do not want to see the loss of innocent life of innocent civilians, as Israel starts to ramp up to move in to the region.
COLLINS: Secretary Blinken has been on it quite a busy trip. Priscilla Alvarez at the White House. Thank you for that reporting. Joining me now is the former commanding general of the U.S. Army, Air Army, Europe and seventh army retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General, thank you so much for being here. I mean, we keep hearing officials in Israel talk about the next phase of this war, it seems safe to assume that this ground invasion is coming.
The question really is just when but also, what that looks like. What do you think is happening behind the scenes right now it is really senior Military officials are weighing when to take that next step.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There are a lot of considerations, Kaitlin. What I would say from our perspective, hostages are most important and then civilians on the battlefield. But then you have to look at things like the readiness of the Israeli Defense Forces and the capabilities of Hamas fighting in the city.
You also have to consider how much intelligence has the IDF collected over the last six days since the attack that they hadn't been collected before about the internal workings and the city of -- of well, all the cities in Gaza. Also implicate -- implicating everything is the weather.
So all of these things are all part of when do we attack? How do we attack? What are the objectives? Where are different forces going? How do we synchronize those attacks? And how do we make sure that the various arms, the air, ground and sea of the Israeli Defense Forces are coordinated. They've just mobilized 300,000 plus people, most of those individuals have been -- they're coming from civilian jobs, and most of them have never seen combat.
So you also put that factor involved that this is the first time a lot of the Israeli soldiers are going into a fight. And we've had Hamas, obviously, based on their actions last Saturday, very well trained, a lot better trained than we've ever seen a terrorist group before, synchronizing their action and doing a lot of different things than the last time Israel went into Hamas -- into Gaza in 2014.
COLLINS: Yes, and obviously when you mentioned the weather there that's important because if it is going to be this ground invasion they need to have be able to have air cover for those forces that's something they can't do if the weather is bad, if it's cloudy, if it's raining. When they actually -- if they actually go in, if Israel does go into Gaza, which is obviously what's anticipated, we keep talking about this tunnel system that Hamas operates out of. That's not for the civilians, but is underneath Gaza that they use, and appears to be quite sophisticated.
I mean, if you're the Israeli Defense Forces, and you're preparing to go when, what are the questions about how that system operates, how Hamas uses that, that factors into what they are going to do?
HERTLING: Well, the IDF saw this in 2014, I'm going to go back to the last time they went into Gaza, they saw these very complex tunnel systems, and they were -- they were stymied by them, truthfully, those have only been expanded. And what you're talking about is tunnels and shafts to you have to include the shafts coming out of building, even high rise apartments, where you can get underground. And it isn't just something that's just right underground, these are very deep, to prevent them from being bombed and exploded and caving in.
But they are also complex. It literally is a city of roads underneath the ground or a city of trails, rather. So they can move around in those. And not only that, Kaitlin, but -- but the U.S. Military trained soldiers to go into caves in Afghanistan and Iraq. And what we found, and it's something that dates back in Military history, if you're a defender inside of a cave or a tunnel, you have a huge advantage over the attacker, because they have to come to you. They're going down different shafts, different corridors.
And if you have good vision devices, or you know when to set up an ambush inside a cave, it could take 10 -- we there was one instance in a training environment where 100 soldiers could not dislodge five soldiers inside of a cave complex. The same thing applies inside of a tunnel. Snipers can be in there, the Hamas can also take their prisoners, their hostages there and put them in a strong point defense.
They can move them around when they see the Israelis coming. So this adds a whole another condition of the battlefield, which is -- is very difficult, and it's only been improved over the last decade by Hamas.
COLLINS: Yes. And I was reading that they're quite sophisticated in the sense that they have power, they have running water, they have food down there. I mean, these aren't just when you think of tunnels underneath the ground, I think people think of something that is a dark tunnel, they're crawling it. But these seem actually quite large tunnels, quite sophisticated that Hamas is able to use to their ability. I mean --
HERTLING: Well, we've seen it recently in Ukraine, in the fight in Mariupol have, a relatively small number of Ukrainian soldiers underneath a factory that was built as a bomb shelter in that city and Ukraine held off regiments of Russians for over a month, stymied the entire attack on the Russian. These are the same things. And you're showing pictures now of the simplistic -- simplicity of the tunnels.
But what you don't see in some of those, are the curves and the angles and the way you can set up defensive positions and the power generation. That's an entry right there. All of these things make the battlefield in the Gaza, much more difficult than you can imagine.
COLLINS: And one thing that I was just speaking about with the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations is about what their goal is what that looks like how long it could potentially take, obviously, he's not going to tell us what their exact plan is. But he talked about eradicating Hamas's terrorist capabilities. Was the phrase that Ambassador Erdan used there. I mean, when they go in there, is it they're looking for just the leaders of Hamas, we've already seen them killing several of them.
Is it all of Hamas, period? I mean, what could this potentially look like for Israel's objectives here?
HERTLING: Well, that's -- that's the whole point. When you have civilians on the battlefield or civilians in the area, when you're an Israeli soldier, or any kind of soldier, you're going into a situation where you're going against an ununiformed individual, someone that's in civilian clothing, or in a tunnel, are they the enemy? Or are they just someone that's there? Are they a hostage? Is it a civilian just trying to get to a new location? These are the kinds of things that are very difficult.
I heard the Minister of Defense of Israel the other day, saying that the Israeli for -- saying today that the Israeli forces are really well trained, and they will only kill Hamas. You know, that's a great thing for someone in an office to save, but I'm telling you on a battlefield, when you have new soldiers, newly mobilized soldiers, who have not seen combat before, and who are frightened and somewhat scared of what's going to happen, they're going to shoot at anything that moves.
So these are the kinds of things that happen in a closed in fight in an urban environment, and that's what makes it so challenging.
COLLINS: Yes, a lot of questions what these next few days will look like. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you for your time tonight and for your expertise.
HERTLING: Pleasure, Kaitlin. Thank you.
COLLINS: Ahead we'll get an update from a spokesman with the Israeli Defense Forces as Gaza is looming and bracing for what could be a ground invasion from Israeli troops.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Israel at war. We're continuing to follow new developments here on the war on Hamas. This weekend, Israeli forces continued to bombard Gaza saying they struck more than 250 targets on Sunday. Israeli officials said that Hamas commanders were killed in those strikes, which also claimed the lives of innocent civilians who say they were bombed without warning.
I want to bring in Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus of the IDF. Can you talk about what you feel has been accomplished thus far with the bombing that that has gone on?
LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: Yes, what we're doing is targeting Hamas, its Military infrastructure. And we have a special priority for Hamas seniors and commanders. It is a challenging task because they are hiding underground, using civilians as their human shields. But we are deploying lots of intelligence capabilities working together with the ISA, Israeli security agency and actively targeting them, so far with good results.
But there is a long, long way to go. (inaudible) the leader and Butcher of Khan Younis all the way down to the last Military commanders. They are all targets. And anybody who was involved in the atrocious attacks against Israel on the seventh of October will pay the price.
COOPER: Do you have any sense of numbers of civilians who may have moved further south heading to IDF's warnings?
CONRICUS: The estimates and I emphasize that these are estimates and it's a difficult endeavor to track but we are looking at approximately half a million. Those are the figures that I have at this stage. Of course, there's many more who have tried to evacuate, but that have been stopped by Hamas. And I'm sure that there are many more who want to but perhaps are deterred, because they don't want to confront Hamas, or are victims to misinformation in the Gaza Strip.
I want to repeat our warning and our demand from Palestinian civilians in Gaza, go south from Gaza City, towards the Gaza River and continue south in order to preserve your life and to enhance your safety.
COOPER: We talked about this yesterday there was an explosion on one road that people were using to go south. There's a lot of people in Gaza believe Israel struck that you said you were looking into it. Do you have any more information about the explosion that took place on that road?
CONRICUS: Yes, we have looked into it. And I can say based on the statement of Brigadier General Herati that saw -- Hagari -- sorry, that we clearly, unequivocally did not actively strike anything in that area of the reported event. We have not tried to strike civilians, not in Gaza in general, and specifically not there. And what we've said is that, a, any information coming out of the Gaza Strip much must be treated with extreme caution and suspicion, because it's controlled by Hamas, and they are known to manipulate, lie and falsify.
And the second thing is that this event only serves Hamas, the fact that they were -- that there was a mysterious explosion and casualties, and it was quickly amplified in Palestinian and international media serves only the purposes of Hamas, of sending a message for the civilians not to evacuate, and of course, trying to blame Israel for the event in the international media.
COOPER: Do you have evidence that that Hamas has actually tried to prevent people from -- from heading further south? I know they have told people not to go south. Do you have information that they are actually actively preventing people?
CONRICUS: Yes, we have and we released it earlier today. There was a recording of an interesting conversation between an Israeli Intel officer and a Palestinian civilian. Our intel got -- our intel officer asks him what's going on. And the Palestinian says that Hamas officials have stopped him and that they're confiscating the keys to his vehicle because they don't want him to travel south.
We have also released aerial imagery of a roadblock that Hamas erected on the same evacuation road, the Salahuddin highway which crosses the Gaza Strip, the main thoroughfare, and they erected road to stop people and it's clear image of two vehicles blocking the road and a giant back pile of vehicles that are stopped because of that roadblock.
COOPER: There is a -- there had been a statement that water had been restored in southern parts of Gaza. Has that -- is that confirmed? Has that actually occurred? Because we haven't been able to confirm that on the ground that there's actually water coming out of taps.
CONRICUS: Yes, it has. We have open taps on our side. What going on with the infrastructure in Gaza, I too have don't have visibility on exactly how much is actually flowing where it should. Things in Gaza have a tendency of not flowing where they should. Usually things that are supposed to support civilians have a tendency of supporting terrorist activity, especially under the rule of Hamas.
And it wouldn't surprise me that they're siphoning off water for the combatants instead of allowing it to flow to civilians. But that's more speculation than information.
COOPER: And have you seen any efforts on the Egyptian side in the Sinai of building any tents or anything that might give an indication that they'd be willing to have civilians from Gaza across the border?
CONRICUS: No, I have not.
COOPER: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
CONRICUS: Thank you for having me.
COOPER: Stay with CNN. A special edition of the whole story; Terror in Israel, starts right now.